As we enter 2015, consumer wearable technology is at a critical tipping point. The number of innovative places where you can stick sensors and collect data has been on a steep rise over the past year. Incubators and startups are ripe with ideas and uses for collecting and displaying all kinds of data. From watches to underwear, almost anything seems like it could be connected and send data to a smart phone or the cloud. However, with the endless parade of new devices constantly hitting the market, does this mean they are actually fulfilling an unmet need that really makes them useful? And where is the proof that these devices somehow make an impact or change behavior in a way that will elevate this sort of technology from niche to mainstream?
Currently, there is great interest and intent on behalf of consumers to try wearable technology, with almost 15% of Americans reportedly already using some type of fitness band, smart watch, or smart glasses. Fitness wearables are leading the herd right now, but most are only used for approximately 3 months and then are never used again. If a consumer has a poor experience once, they may be less inclined to try other types of wearable technology down the line.
To push past the tipping point and get not only large-scale buy-in, but more importantly, large-scale ongoing utilization, there are a few essential aspects that vendors must start taking into account to help make the appetite for wearable technology more palatable.
- Aesthetic design: “One size fits all” will not work for wearable technology. The ability to personalize, swap sensors between different items, and make it less apparent that someone even has the technology on will be crucial for larger-scale adoption. This is also where branded partnerships between technology developers and established consumer brands can enable both parties to help each other out. Aesthetic design could apply not only to the devices’ physical appearance, but possibly to the interface in which users engage with the information the devices produce. Think about the different technical capabilities and visual needs of the typical teenager vs the typical baby-boomer.
- Seamless integration & context: Integration and context are intertwined, yet subtly different. Seamless integration refers not only to the technology working with current smartphone devices easily and simply, but also to causing as little disruption as possible to a person’s normal everyday activity and lifestyle. Along with integration is the need to then provide context for the data being collected, in order to make it truly usable and actionable. For example, if you’re using a sleep tracker, did you wake up due to your apnea or did you just need to go to the bathroom? Can your integrated sensor tell the two apart? This ability to add context alongside multiple streams of integrated data is critical.
- Privacy: This is a large concern now, but will probably lessen over time as more and more people become comfortable with sharing personal, but anonymous or de-identified, data with other parties and vendors. People are beginning to forgo total privacy of their data if sharing it anonymously helps to reduce the cost of purchasing the technology.
- Battery life: This often seems like an afterthought, but it plays heavily into a product’s ease of integration and usability. If people have to constantly charge their devices every day, this can be the kind of disruption of regular daily activity mentioned earlier. As batteries shrink in size and grow in power storage, this will help to both increase ongoing usage and also allow for a wider-range of innovative applications.
- Data Integration: Only capturing one or two data points is limiting and will not create the necessary value unless that device is really cheap. Looking at Apple’s Healthkit as an example, devices will need to be able to share data, either pushing data into or pulling it from a centralized and interoperable platform. This breaks down the silos and creates a more meaningful and comprehensive experience for consumers.
Moving forward in 2015, vendors will need to start to look at these elements and find opportunities to incorporate these improvements into product design. With the ball now rolling, it will be necessary to look beyond individual product silos, to create partnerships, to push interoperability and focus on greater user-centric design and usage to truly shift the wearables market into a solid and sustainable part of consumers’ lives.
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